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Northern Ireland Executive: Financial Position

Volume 600: debated on Wednesday 14 October 2015

2. What steps she is taking to ensure that the Northern Ireland Executive’s financial position is sustainable. (901507)

It is for the Executive to deliver a balanced Budget and sustainable finances. The Stormont House agreement provides a package of measures to help them achieve this. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, it is not extra money that will sort out this crisis; the local parties need to resolve welfare reform disagreements, deal with budgetary pressures and deliver public sector reform.

Does my hon. Friend accept that in principle it is not acceptable for any of the devolved Administrations simply to breach spending limits agreed with Her Majesty’s Government?

It is not acceptable for any devolved institution, or indeed any Whitehall Department, to breach spending limits agreed with the Treasury. For that reason, I urge the Northern Ireland parties to resolve their differences, implement the Stormont House agreement and take advantage of the economic package we put together last December to ensure that Northern Ireland goes from strength to strength.

Many areas of Northern Ireland have a particular problem with unemployment, partly as a result of the troubles and their aftermath. Will the Secretary of State make representations to the Chancellor that there is a strong case to be made for welfare reform to be far slower in Northern Ireland than elsewhere and that additional support for job creation should be provided?

That case has been made. That is why in the Stormont House agreement we allow flexibilities within Stormont to take measures appropriate to ensure that the troubles are recognised and their impact on the people of Northern Ireland mitigated. However, that is a matter for the Stormont House Government. The powers are there; it is time they got on with it.

Does the Minister agree that any Government that cannot set a budget cannot really govern properly? Are not the parties that are preventing the setting of the budget risking the collapse of the whole institutions?

I agree with my hon. Friend that unless this impasse is solved, public services will start to be hit as the money runs out. Let us not forget that the people of Northern Ireland deserve that this solution be put in place. We are already seeing the impact on the health service in Northern Ireland—and no doubt on other services, too. There is very little time left before the people of Northern Ireland realise that a non-functioning Stormont will take Northern Ireland backwards, not forwards.

Have the parties that rejected the Stormont House proposals from last December put forward any credible proposals to resolve the financial issues?

May I refer the hon. Gentleman to his party leader, who has been in the talks over the last few weeks? He may be able to refresh his memory about what proposals have been put forward. The talks are ongoing; they are intense and we hope collectively to come to a resolution.